After spending a year working in the insurance industry, it became clear to Tyler Hobbs that his real passion was education. Before he found an opportunity to teach personal finance at Stevensville High School in Montana, he didn't even know that high schools had personal finance classes. Now, he is spearheading the school's new financial literacy program.
"Before I started teaching, I heard through the grapevine that students thought personal finance classes were boring," says Tyler. In response, he immediately tried to find ways to grab their attention and get them interested and engaged. On the first day of class, he brought in $600 in cash – more money that some students had ever seen. Aside from teaching the basic fundamentals of personal finance such as budgeting, investments, retirement and debt, Tyler also spends a great deal of time studying the housing crisis of 2008. "We look at it from a homebuyer's perspective to learn why it's important to be an informed consumer, and also from a business perspective to understand the risk of phantom income in the sale of mortgages."
He incorporates videos and pop culture to engage the students in potentially dry material. "The multimedia aspect of it keeps their attention," he explains. Tyler adopted the Dave Ramsey curriculum and DVD series and breaks it down for his students in terms they understand. They watch a Dave Ramsey video and listen to his radio show before analyzing caller situations and predicting Dave's advice. His students also watch the TV show Shark Tank, a competition that features aspiring entrepreneurs pitching their businesses to potential investors. This allows students to look at loans and taxes – concepts that might be difficult to understand out of context – from a business standpoint. "It gives them a hook to get them interested."
Tyler also invites speakers into the classroom, like certified financial planners who discuss job opportunities in financial management as well as schooling requirements and certification. "The speakers validate what we talk about in class," says Tyler. "They bring a different perspective that doesn't involve a textbook. Students see that it's real stuff, that this is the way the world works."
He is collecting statistical data about the program's success. "Each student takes a pre-test at the beginning of the semester," he says. "At the end of the semester, they take the exact same test." First semester results will be analyzed mid-January, and Tyler believes the results will be outstanding. Already, students are showing personal finance knowledge improvement. In the Stock Market Game, a group of Tyler's students took first place this past December. "They were the highest earners out of 189 teams in the state."
The greatest challenge Tyler has encountered is that sometimes, the concepts are not directly relevant to students' lives – yet. "Some topics don't set in or hit home until you experience them," he says. Saving for an emergency fund, for example, sounds easy to do, fundamentally. But it doesn't come into play until later in life. "I try to get them to realize how important it is, how valuable it will be."
"I believe that personal finance is the most important class that our students will take in their high school career," Tyler says. "The decisions they make today will impact their financial future and retirement." Tyler is committed to making his Consumer Education class the most successful program in his school.
Tyler practices good finance in his own life by following the same principles he teaches in class. He also has a close set of friends like accountants and insurance agents, who he can turn to for professional advice. He has set up an emergency fund, invests wisely for long-term growth and makes sure to stay out of debt.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Tyler Hobbs for his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Stevensville High School in Stevensville, MT.